Bad News Betsy

On Wednesday, President-Elect Donald Trump became the latest leader in a succession stretching decades into the past to prove that it matters not who is in charge: the Big Education Agenda – the real agenda – is all but indestructible.

With his pick of billionaire Betsy DeVos for the role of Secretary of Education, Trump signaled either his willingness to go along with the war being waged on our children by the Education-Industrial-Complex, or his ignorance of what is actually happening to our schools.

Either way, the troops march on.

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 Despite claims that she opposes Common Core (an assertion that is not only dubious but also, given the Core’s ability to morph into whatever form it desires, largely irrelevant), DeVos is decidedly devoted to the cradle-to-grave, data-driven workforce development system that has been in the works since at least the 1950’s.

 This agenda, as I have written previously, is a chameleon – easily blending into its ideological surroundings depending on whom it is being marketed to.

Hillary Clinton, for example, spoke of her desire to expand “community schools,” leading many to believe that her priority would be investing in traditional, locally operated public schools.  With billions of dollars in support from foundations like the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and its subsidiary, StriveTogether, however, the term “community schools” has recently taken on a whole new meaning.

Across the nation, corporate and Wall Street-driven organizations are building data-sharing networks that, they hope, will allow the “community” – any business or nonprofit, corporate or otherwise, that is standards-aligned and willing to gather and share data with our Wall Street and government overlords – to actually be the school. Toting “data backpacks” with them from one locale to the next, the hope from on high is that most children will do most of their “learning” by way of virtual or “blended learning” programs.

Now, Trump and DeVos are promising more “school choice,” while leaving the masses to imagine, as Hillary did, what this might mean.

And so, as parents picture using their tax dollars to choose between the French immersion school on the corner and the Catholic school down the street that eschews all the heavy-handed federal mandates that burden their local public school, they are deliberately diverted from the fact that “school choice” will very likely look nearly identical to what I just described above: a system in which children will receive vouchers, or Educational Savings Account (ESA) debit cards, that can be used anywhere that is standards-aligned and data-minable. Most “learning” will happen virtually, as that is where the real money can be made and real Skinnerian brain-washing can occur.

(By the way: when you hear hand-wringing from our national union leadership over the DeVos appointment, ask them why they signed onto this document, which describes the system above nearly to a tee.)

Recently, Mrs. DeVos told Philanthropy Roundtable:

“It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished.”

She also said that “digital learning is in its infancy relative to the influence that it can and will have.”

(Now take a look at what happened recently in DeVos’s home state of Michigan, where low-income students in Detroit were used as guinea pigs in an all-but-undercover plot to develop and market digital learning software.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that Senator Lamar Alexander, who sponsored the wretched reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act that is chock full of all the sticks and carrots and embedded legislation to kick this long sought-after vision into high gear, is so pleased with the DeVos pick.

Back in 1991, Alexander told EdWeek that he envisions a system where “school districts don’t have the exclusive monopoly to operate what we call public schools.”

Sound familiar?

Now, Alexander says he is eager to work with DeVos on the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Which means we are in serious trouble.

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#StopDevos

Trump won. Now what??

Several weeks ago, I wondered in a blog post whether or not public education would survive the next administration.

Admittedly, I was all but certain at the time that Hillary Clinton would be our next president, and my predictions were more than dismal: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets, invasive school-wide and individual data collection, a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs, etc.

Ever since the big shock of Tuesday night, however, I’ve been scrambling to say something coherent about what we can expect now that Donald Trump really is going to be our next president.

Will public education survive?

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Here’s the funny (and by that I mean incredibly scary) thing about federal public education policy: the big agenda – the real agenda – seems to survive no matter who is put in charge.

The real agenda – the ongoing march toward a cradle-to-grave system of human capital development that relies on the most sophisticated data collection and tracking technologies to serve its unthinkably profitable end – is fueled and directed by a multi-billion dollar education-industrial-complex that has been built over the course of decades.

It’s an absolute beast, an army of epic scale, and it’s a system that has the same uncanny ability to blend in with its surroundings as a chameleon.

Take, for example, the new “innovative assessment systems” that are being thrust on us every which way in the wake of ESSA.  Under the banner of free market ideology, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is promoting the very same assessment policies that far-left groups like the national unions and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing are now pushing. And though some claim that one ideology is merely “co-opting” the ideas of the other, the reality is that they lead to the same data-mining, cradle-to-career tracking end.

Consider, too, the massive push for blended, competency-based, and digital learning – all unproven methods of educating children, but highly favored by ed-tech providers and data-miners.

Most of these corporate-backed policies were cooked up in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and then made their way not only to the far-right ALEC, but also to left-leaning groups like the Center for Collaborative Education, the Coalition for Essential Schools, and the Great Schools Partnership. Depending on what sort of population each group is targeting, these wolves will dress themselves up in sheep’s clothing and make appeals to different values. For the right, they will package their policies in the language of the free market and choice; for the left, they will wrap them in a blanket of social-justice terminology.

Pull back the curtain far enough, however, and you will see they are selling the same thing.

There is, of course, no question that Hillary Clinton has been deeply entrenched in the education-industrial-complex for many, many years – even profiting from it personally – and that the big agenda was going to move full speed ahead if she were elected.

But what will happen now that we’re guaranteed to have a President Trump?

Unfortunately, we need look no further than the man leading Trump’s education transition team to understand how much trouble we are in.

Not long ago, Gerard Robinson, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was one of only eleven members of the Executive Team of Jeb Bush’s “Digital Learning Now!” council, along with Joel Klein of NYC Public Schools, Gregory McGinity of the Broad Foundation, and Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Former Gates Foundation executive Tom Vander Ark, who sits on the board of the world’s creepiest education organizations while overseeing a giant portfolio of digital and online learning companies, picked Robinson as one of his top ten reformers to watch back in 2010.

It should be no surprise, then, that Robinson recently told EdWeek: “I see [Trump] supporting blended learning models, alternative learning models,” and that he will “likely want to continue significant investments in colleges and universities, but also closely track how well graduates do in the labor market.”

That’s all part of the big agenda right there, and here is no big surprise: for-profit education chains are already seeing their stocks rise.

For those of you now protesting that Trump said he would get rid of the Department of Education, well, President Reagan said that too, but then he sponsored a report called “A Nation at Risk” which kicked the role of the federal government in education into high gear. According to Robinson, Trump may “streamline” the department  …whatever that means.

As for rumors circulating that either Ben Carson or William Evers of the Hoover Institute will be tapped for the role of Education Secretary under Trump, I think we’re more likely to get someone akin to what Robinson told Edweek:  “Someone from the private sector, who may not have worked in education directly, but may be involved in philanthropy or some kind of reform.”

So what does this mean for us? For our kids, our schools and our communities?

More than likely, it won’t be much different nor any less dismal than what I wrote when I assumed Hillary would be president: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets to support one-to-one tech initiatives, invasive (way more invasive) school-wide and individual data collection, and a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs.

Unless!

And this is a big unless..

 Unless parents and activists from across the political spectrum can mobilize now and stand up now to say enough is enough. We know what the big agenda is, and we aren’t going to manipulated by superficial policy change anymore.

This means that those who lean right can’t afford to go back to sleep once they hear talk of school choice and vouchers and the elimination of Common Core, and those leaning left can’t afford to throw in the towel or be led astray by phony anti-privatization movements run by neoliberal groups pushing the same darn thing as everyone else.

This time it needs to be us against the machine.

And if we can really band together, and really stay ahead of the curve rather than reacting to every crappy policy they put into place, then maybe – just maybe – we can take advantage of the confusion and uncertainty of an incoming Trump presidency to gain the upper hand.

If you’re shaking your head or laughing quietly at what probably seems like naïveté, please forgive me: I’m not yet 32, and have one young son and another on the way. I need to hang on to some kind of hope… and I’m guessing you do too.

For what it’s worth, I’m thinking that if this cat can do this, then we should at least have a shot at beating back the beast.

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